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Background information: My team is tasked with providing functional requirements and use cases to another team in the same organization. The other team is in charge of implementing the software. I am the liaison with the other team.

Last summer, while reviewing the design documentation, I was tasked with providing actual examples of a certain set of data so that the software could be properly designed to handle it. I provided the examples and heard nothing back. At the beginning of this month, I was contacted again by the other team architect, asking me to provide the examples of data I had already provided.

I re-sent the examples and asked them to let me know if anything was unclear or missing. Again, complete silence from the other side. Today, their project lead sends around an email to engineers and reporting managers listing all the open actions still to be completed, including the task in my name, with the remark "provided examples are incomplete and very limited".

Question: Would it be unprofessional from my side to reply to the mail, provide additional data and underline that, though I had asked, no feedback was given to me in all this time? Or should I keep it as a separate clarification with the other team?

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    Why do you as liaison between the two teams only have mail contact once per month? – RemcoGerlich Jan 25 at 9:29

10 Answers 10

167

What they did was unprofessional.

You should reply to the group email with copies of your original emails and something like this.

I'm very sorry that you feel that my samples were limited. I am a bit confused as to why this is the first time I am hearing of this, as I sent the examples twice, and even asked if anything was unclear or missing. If you had replied, I would have been able to address the situation on either occasion. In the future, please notify me of any difficulties immediately, so that we may avoid situations like this.

Make sure to reference the dates of the original mails, to drive the point home.

  • 24
    No need to apologize for another's mistakes or feelings. This type of CYA email should be answered in kind as all the "reporting managers" are already included. Would advise to remove the first sentence and sent the remainder with "reply all" (and indeed include dates of original emails and emails themselves as attachments). - For the OP: do not include additional data now, that's an issue for outside of the CYA-email chain. – rkeet Jan 25 at 10:07
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    The problem is that an email worded like this can come across as snarky and unprofessional even though it is factual. – bob Jan 25 at 16:01
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    @RichardU Yes there is a lot of snark in IT, but that doesn't diminish the fact that management of any sort is built on interpersonal skills. Successful leaders in IT still need to cultivate these skills. But yes snark is much more common in IT, so you can get away with a bit more there. – bob Jan 25 at 16:07
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    @bob successful leaders in IT don't ignore emails, then say that they didn't get them, ignore requests for feedback, then send out a mass email involving managers saying that the OP didn't do the job. A pubic rebuke demands a public response, which is why anyone who knows the first thing about management goes by the rule "Praise in public, correct in private". This lead did something publicly, and letting it pass without a swat on the nose will only permit it to happen again. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jan 25 at 16:09
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    @Rui F Riberio I can see that. In my view it's being gracious and allowing for the possibility that the non-responding party did in fact do what the should have and the error may have been on OP's end (maybe they missed the emails or had an incorrect email filter), or maybe it was no one's fault at all (issue with the mail server), or perhaps it was the other guy's fault but not malicious. Either way, it's a good general approach to conflict resolution and it looks very good to outside parties. It comes off as gracious and good at handling conflicts while being in control, all good things. – bob Jan 25 at 20:45
105

would it be unprofessional from my side to reply to the mail

Yes, you should not be doing this without taking it to your manager first.

Best case scenario and the professional way any dispute like this is done should actually be your manager doing the emailing, you have no business getting into a confrontation. Your manager is the buffer between you and any such issues. These issues impact directly on them and should be resolved by them.

So provide your manager with the paper trail and let them decide what is to be done about it. Your manager should either talk to theirs or reply strongly to the email.

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    I've been in similar situations (They are way too common) and I also think "raise it with your manager" is the way forward. – Matt Holland Jan 24 at 17:51
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    Manager involvement is a requirement; if everything is fine then it is simply corre t to have him up to date, but should anything be less than clear he has more information than you and can give advice and provide directives – Paolo Jan 24 at 17:52
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    This sounds like a much more mature response than the current accepted answer IMO. +1 – Daniel Littlewood Jan 25 at 16:37
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    This is the correct answer.It makes sure your boss hears about it first, is on your side, and the whole sh**storm passes over your head instead of in your face. Worst case scenario with any other answer would be that your boss may think you actually did not send your data ... Make sure you talk with your boss in a non-whiney way, and make sure it's about his image, as well, not just yours. – AnoE Jan 28 at 13:58
  • @AnoE in addition it would put the manager in the position where he needs to defend one of his team out of the blue with incomplete information, so he'll look either out of touch, or not in control, or both. An uncomfortable situation for him that he won't be thankful for. – Kilisi Jan 31 at 14:01
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I think the ideal response would be to follow a simple form:

  1. Comment that you had requested feedback in your second email. Include the date of that email, and note upon not receiving any input you assumed the data was satisfactory.

  2. Apologize for the miscommunication. Even though it should be clear to everyone on the email whose fault the miscommunication really was, technically if they didn't respond saying "thanks for the data, this looks great!", a further followup might've been warranted, so you're not entirely blameless.

  3. Ask for further details. Specifically inquire as to what they felt was missing or inadequate. This leaves the ball in their court -- you've acknowledged their concern, but you're not a mind-reader; if you knew the data was incomplete you presumably would've addressed that prior to sending it, therefore clarification on their part is necessary.

  4. Propose a followup meeting with one or more members of their team as appropriate. A broadly-CCed email is not the place to digress into technical specifications and other details that are not of any concern to most of the people on the email, and a live meeting will allow for more collaborative effort to ensure that you understand their requirements and that they understand your limitations.

For example,

Hi LEAD, thank you for highlighting your concerns. As per my email dated DATE, I requested feedback on the examples I sent over earlier; having not heard anything I had assumed the examples were sufficient. I apologize for the miscommunication and would be happy to provide more thorough examples.

Please advise as to what CRITERIA need more detailed coverage and I will get to work on an updated set of examples. It might be beneficial to both our teams if we arrange a meeting between myself and you and/or ARCHITECT in the near future, so we can ensure all requirements and any limitations are understood by both teams.

Where

LEAD = the other team's project lead's name, of course

DATE = the date of your second email, the one where you asked for feedback (if you asked for feedback in the original as well, call out both)

CRITERIA = areas, use cases, scenarios... whatever criteria/terms are appropriate to your examples

ARCHITECT = the architect you originally corresponded with


This solution apologizes for incomplete action on your part (the lack of followup), requests the information you lack, and suggests a meeting to help minimize further miscommunication. By including the entire CC list you make it clear to everyone there that you had largely done your due diligence and weren't just slacking off, but keeps the tone sincere and avoids unnecessary passive-aggressiveness.

As some have noted in the comments, including your manager is always a good idea. I might suggest BCCing your manager and then following up with them in person or in a separate email so they are aware of the complete situation. This would be an appropriate amount of CYA without the appearance of attempting to humiliate them in front of your manager. From there, if your manager is grievously offended by their remarks and wishes to take it up with their team, then that's your manager's prerogative.

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    This is actually the best wording for a response. Surprised it hasn't gotten more attention. Far better than the non-apology in the (current) top answer. – Wildcard Jan 24 at 22:55
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    Well I did post it ~9 hours after the other answers, and well after it'd filtered into HNQ. The originals and their comments actually gave me some inspiration as to what to say (and what not to say, heh). – Doktor J Jan 24 at 23:57
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    The main improvement is not apologizing. With a customer, fine - but you don't need to play those games internally. The latter half of the same sentence is worth keeping though. It's important to make it clear you're trying to find a solution constructively. But most important is to explicitly inform everyone on the CC list that the other team dropped the ball. – Graham Jan 25 at 7:43
  • I agree, this is the best answer other than going to manager if that is the most appropriate action given OP's situation (only OP can decide that). Very professional and also avoids looking bad for the failures of others. +1. – bob Jan 25 at 16:05
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    I like your answer and your reasoning. But I might say "I regret," or omit that part, rather than "I apologize." As far as OP knows, they're not deserving of a public calling-out, and there wasn't a miscommunication, they just neglected to nag somebody. I'd apologize for the samples being incomplete, if anything. – johncip Jan 27 at 8:49
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Is it professional to make visible lack of feedback?

YES. It's perfectly fine to make situation clear by simply presenting facts.

If you are certain the original submissions meet the requirements, then it's best to avoid specifically pointing fingers.

Instead, Reply to the group laying out the situation is such a way that it should be obvious that the other team dropped the ball without explicitly saying so.

For instance, attach the two previous emails/links whatever saying something like:

Hi Everyone, here's the data provided earlier that met the requirements specified in [requirements document]. If this is no longer valid, just have [person responsible for the requirements] update and we're happy to provide updated sets.

Of course, feel free to directly tell your management that the other team missed this. If they want to escalate and point fingers, that's their choice.

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    I like this except it doesn't necessarily answer the challenge that the reqs were incomplete, which could be true but which the OP couldn't have known since no feedback was previously given on them. But I like the emotion-neutral tone of this response. – bob Jan 25 at 16:03
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In this particular case, I must admit I like blaming technology; in this case, e-mail.

It's a kind of white-lie, but has the advantage of:

  1. Leaving you blameless: you cannot react to something you didn't receive.
  2. Leaving an out to the other party; not a particularly elegant out, but better than to corner them and have them resent you.

Once the "excuse" is in, then move back to business immediately.


Example of reply:

Hi,

Or whatever form of address is in use in your company.

CC your manager. You are in "hot potato" mode, so they are too. They may be asked about it, so from now on keep them in CC for all further developments, that they stay on top of the situation.

I double-checked my spam folder but could not find any notification that the provided data was either incomplete or limited; nor any request for further samples. If you give me the name and date of whoever sent the feedback, I'll make sure the IT team investigates and resolves the issue.

I would not expect that anyone steps forward and announce they sent an e-mail that they actually didn't, nor that anyone would denounce a colleague. It's expected they'll keep silent and nothing further will be said. If they do send a name, then do follow through and ask the IT team to investigate; who knows, it may be genuine!

In the mean-time, I'll call to clarify exactly how the samples provided were lacking and make sure that we agree on what good samples are, then send a new pack of samples.

Move back to business immediately; it'll take precedence over the "small" issue above and avoid awkwardness. It's time to show that you are pro-active, and will get issues solved. Since asynchronous communication failed, move to synchronous communication: either call or drop by their desk. If they cannot accommodate, schedule a meeting (call or physical).

Regards,
-- signature --

Finish with all the right forms.


You'll want to leave a trace, that they cannot shift the blame on you a second time, so once you have collected the (objective!) requirements, immediately mail them to the group. Once again, CC your manager.

Go ahead, and collect the new samples, make sure they do pass the requirements specified. Send them by e-mail, CC your manager.

And finally, after 2 days without hearing about the quality of the samples, double-check with them. A quick call, or dropping by their desk: "Did you receive XXX? Are they good enough?" ... then reply to the e-mail in which you sent the samples, and document the reply "Hi X, as discussed, please do let me know about any feedback you have once you have checked the samples."1 or "Hi, X confirmed that the samples look good. Please let me know otherwise."

And that's it for now.

Do be careful with this team in the future, though. If they are trying to shift the blame on you for being late, they may find other convenient excuses. So keep documenting everything in the future.

1 Whether you check a second time is up to you; I wouldn't, unless asked to by my manager.


Anecdote

I used to work in a very big company, and while most people I had the chance to work with were professional... a few would always try to shift the blame to someone else. The first time it fell on me, I was quite surprised. I did learn an important lesson though: be unfailingly polite and comprehensive, offer outs, but document everything.

I still remember a few years later, when working on a time-sensitive project, when during one of the monthly meeting with the project director, a team leader (from another team) blamed me for his team lack of progress, live! The sensation of everyone in the room suddenly jolting awake to look at you is really unnerving. The look of embarrassment on the face of said team leader when I checked my notes and announced I had done my part -- on time -- and sent him an e-mail 2 or 3 days prior was quite rewarding. The way he shriveled when the project director pounced on him asking how he could have missed this e-mail, and the sermon that ensued, was awkward admittedly... but he never ever tried to shift the blame on me afterward.

  • Some people just love to play those games when talking, and get fairly annoyed when you send them emails documenting things. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 25 at 20:40
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The problem with defending yourself against things like this is that defensive behaviour invariably makes you look bad, even if you are completely in the right. It also doesn't solve anything for the future.

It seems like there might be a deeper problem here as well: you just don't seem to have that much contact with the other side. You're waiting for them to mail you back, and they don't, and there is a month between each of the mails in your question. There could be any number of reasons and probably the other side is to blame, but it's still a problem in your organization that needs solving, and you are the liaison between the teams.

I think it would be better to speak to the people in the other team in person, show them how the fact that they didn't respond to your mails makes you look in the project manager's mail, and then come up with a better way to communicate in the future. Maybe you can call each other once a week to make sure there are no things like this going on, anything. And of course you'll discuss what kind of data they actually need and deliver it to them.

Then the other side can send a mail to the recipients of the original, saying that this was caused by them, but no matter -- it's been talked about, and in the future you will both prevent this kind of situation by doing a, b and c.

You don't look defensive, the project manager's problem is solved, you all look professional.

  • On the contrary, if you defend yourself, you wont be the doormat next time. It is someone called precedents. – Rui F Ribeiro Jan 25 at 20:42
  • If you get them to send the mail saying it was their fault, you also won't be the doormat next time. – RemcoGerlich Jan 25 at 21:08
  • Seems it would require a lot of faith in the other side to trust they would acknowledge their part in not previously following up and send this sort of 'oh, it was actually my bad followup now'. I've seen a few emails like the OP described where there is blatant or apparent blame shifting, and have never seen an open retraction. – Mr.Mindor Jan 28 at 18:29
  • @Mr.Mindor: different cultures, I guess. You're all part of the same organization, work on the same product and have the same goal, preventing the same thing from happening again should be more important than assigning blame. I'm Dutch and that's also what his username suggests, which is why I wrote this answer. – RemcoGerlich Jan 28 at 19:09
  • I agree with you on what should be more important for the organization, and getting together with the other group can make things work better in the future, but this question is all about impressions. The original email leaves the impression with everyone on the CC that Author has identified OP as part of a problem. A followup email from Author along the lines of "I spoke with OP and we've agreed to do X, Y, and Z so problem doesn't happen in the future." doesn't remove the initial impression that OP caused problem. It does give the impression that Author was able to resolve OP's problem. – Mr.Mindor Jan 28 at 21:52
3

It's not unprofessional to make visible lack of feedback. The way you do it might be unprofessional, so you have to be extra careful.

IMHO the big question is: Do you trust your manager?

If you do, you should absolutely ask your manager about how to handle this. Your manager might want to give you some insight on what would work best, or even decide to handle that themselves.

If you don't, you should reply politely. Keep in mind that there's still a chance, very small but non-zero, that they replied to you and their reply got lost because of technical reasons. Even if it didn't, blaming it on some technical malfunction gives them a face-saving exit and shows that you're not being aggressive.

You can try writing something along the lines of:

Acknowledgement of the email you just read. Reference to your two previous emails, without forgetting to include the dates. Feel free to quote said emails and/or reattach the dataset in question. Mention possible technical problems that would make their reply not arrive. Suggest an action that you might want to take, such as contacting tech support to check for any missing email, or scheduling a meeting with them to discuss what the issues were.

Don't forget to leave written trails for all your actions. They tried to make it appear as if you didn't send the dataset, even though there's written proof of you having done so. If you decide to have an 1-on-1 meeting with them, keep meeting notes for yourself and email said notes to them afterwards, or add them to some internal wiki if there is something similar. Add your manager to cc whenever appropriate. This also applies to your future interactions with that team.

2

I agree pretty strongly with Kilisi's answer. However, since you are officially the liaison with the other team, handling this may be within your purview.

It seems time for a face to face conversation (video chat if that is impossible). A 1-on-1 setting is going to be the best place for you to gently point out that you asked for feedback and don't appreciate a call-out with no attempt to engage you first. Try to be clear about that, but keep the focus on getting on the same page about what they require from your side and making sure you can communicate better going forward. Be sure to loop your manager in on the result of that conversation.

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    Excellent answer, I'd suggest that it'd be worth looping in your manager before the meeting, as well as after. Letting them know beforehand prevents them getting blind-sided if someone raises a stink before you have a chance to loop them in. It also may be that your manager will prefer to be present to back you up, and should have the opportunity to make that decision. – Morgen Jan 24 at 19:52
  • There was nothing gentle about the lead sending out to all reporting managers and team members. All this will do is make it clear to the lead that he can abuse the OP at will. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jan 24 at 20:44
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    @RichardU I personally wouldn't jump to "abuse" from a one-off event that was mildly passive-aggressive. Sending more snarky emails doesn't prevent the normalization of them, quite the opposite. If it continues or gets worse, it would absolutely be appropriate to take stronger action through the actual channels set up to do so. Actually talking to someone is the right approach to resolve almost any minor communication issue. – Matthew Read Jan 24 at 20:52
  • @MatthewRead it wasn't a one off event, nor was it mildly passive aggressive. It was four events. The lead ignored the OP 3 times, then sent out an email saying the OP didn't do the job. 1)Ignored First email then requested to send data ignored 1st tiem. 2) when OP resent, ignored data. 3)Ignored OP's request for feedback 4)Sent out email indicating sub-standard work to all reporting managers. We call that making a person look bad in front of everyone. To accept that once, is to invite abuse. The response to something in private is private, but a public issue was already made of it. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jan 24 at 20:58
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    Going to them directly and making it clear it wasn't OK is the opposite of "accepting" or "inviting" it. I don't see how it's possible to argue otherwise. And an absence of a response is a void, not an event. Reading so much into that without even having a conversation is not sensible. You can attempt to save face in one email, and look childish and easily upset, or you can actually go solve the communication problem. – Matthew Read Jan 24 at 21:07
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Thank them for the feedback and express your sympathy that they have been caused inconvenience, but that you are now in a difficult position as their feedback was not timely (include the timeline). You may or may not be able to help them now, but offer to do whatever you reasonably can (which puts the problem back on them).

0

I would start out with verifying it's not a typo or directed to you at all ... as these things happen in segmented groups.

  • Direct the email to the project manager
  • Copy the email your boss - as they need to know you are about to have a possible "dispute" with another group. Your boss probably should know before you jump the chain of command - either verbally or in email - perhaps they have insights to the issue or prefer other ways of handling the situation.
  • Do not include extra emails as proof, you are a professional. You said you did your job. Everyone should assume you are doing your job - if they ask more questions & you then roll out the proof - they will be more likely believe you later.

I noticed {Insert Task} was marked incomplete. Was that pertaining to my {Insert role/group}? Is that status current as of today with {Insert group name needing requirements}?

This starts out without making a lot of assumptions & gives you extra information.

We all know that most likely the other group has something they need but forgot to ask for ... so step 2 is begin dealing with the issue ...

"All information specified has been completed AFAIK, on this date {insert date 1} & resent on this date {insert date 2} - do they want to reply to either of my messages or do they want to meet with us to outline it in person?"

  • They said the example data was insufficient, not that they never received it. And while these questions will do the job of starting the conversation, I see it as a minor waste of their time to ask questions one knows the answer to, like "did you really mean my work" and "is the spreadsheet you sent out today current as of today." – johncip Jan 28 at 0:48
  • It's a strategy - not something to solve all the issues. The benefits are too numerous for me to type out here - but primarily - you just prepared your situation without looking like you are "problem" person & instead you just discovered someone else - didn't get your work or misread it & they just need your help. Rather than you're fighting like children. It might be one extra email - but it's all the difference in the world between picking an unnecessary fight. How long does it type to write a 2 or 3 sentence email - is there world in which it's not worth the cost before picking a fight? – Mirv - Matt Jan 28 at 3:02

protected by Jane S Jan 28 at 5:55

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